Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Religious Warfare in Space

Here's the question.

Can romance -- or true love actually -- reach across a gulf between the stars dividing human and non-human and heal a breach caused by religion.

Or put it differently -- we love to write and read about "soul mates" -- a phrase that actually does imply the existence of some kind of spiritual view of reality (with or without a Supreme Being -- but something about a person that persists after death, the spirit).

So if your soul-mate is non-human from "out there" -- what does he/she believe in that's different from what humans believe in.

Well, yeah, somewhere on Earth you can find something that's probably LIKE what non-humans believe -- but just look around at today's world.

I've just done a quick browse through Moslem websites trying to find out what the beef is all about there -- Sunni, Shiite, Sufi, and dozens of other splits. Found a couple of good ones.

http://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060715214852AABQvZQ was particularly informative.

Now I have to figure out WHY they hate Jews and Israel. I know that some who already hate Jews and Israel have found justification in sacred texts, but I don't mean the excuse for hatred, I mean the real reason behind it.

Considering how bizzare all that Moslem point of view seems to me, it just occurred to me that we've given the interstellar situation short shrift when it comes to the religions that could divide human/non-human soul mates.

Oh, yes, a few novels address that problem -- then dismiss it with a handwaving, or find something so similar among the non-humans that the differences don't seem to matter.

But considering the modern trend to mixed-marriages, and bringing up kids in two or more religions plus the prevailing culture's irreligious attitude, -- and don't forget the difference between spirituality and "religion" -- well, with so much philosophical difference just among humans, what about the gulf between us and non-humans?

It suddenly seems unrealistic to portray a human/non-human soul-mate union without dealing head on with the problems of their religious views.

What do you think? Does religion and/or spirituality belong in an Alien Romance novel?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Absolutely spirituality belongs in an alien romance novel. It's part of culture--whether or not one is religious, religions effect the daily culture and norms. I teach a whole workshop in "Swearing in Alien Tongues" and much is based on what a culture--alien or ours--holds dear. Concepts such as bastardy have no meaning without the religious denigration of same.

    Like you, I'm amazed at the number of SFF novels that ignore that aspect (and I'm not counting those that define that there IS no religion or spirituality in that culture). It's part of world building. An essential part.

    In many settings, religion is also older than politics.

    It's also part of characterization. Mack in my An Accidental Goddess wouldn't have half the issues he does if he wasn't also bedding (unbenownst to him) the woman he worships in the local temple.

    Fantasy seems to incorporate religion much more than SF does. IMHO SF and SFR needs to take it into strong consideration, both as characterization and a source of conflict. ~Linnea

  2. Anonymous9:34 PM EDT

    I think, yes. Whether you are talking about spiritual/religious beliefs or simply social customs, there has to be a frame of reference for individual conduct amid that given society. It's something of a unit of measure. No comparison/contrast can be made without such a thing. One system may be in conflict with all others, or it be completely indifferent to them, but it is still there. I can't imaging a sentient being of any kind not having some kind of belief system, tied to that species' sense of identity and its (correct or incorrect)perception of its place in the universe. Of course, that may be because I have beliefs, myself. So perhaps I'm biased toward the existence of belief systems from the outset. For my own part, I think such things are inextricably linked to "purpose". It's what separates the aliens from the animals, you know. (bet that stirs up some angry alien replies)I have an alien society in one of my own stories whose social practices, on first inspection, could be considered heathen, perhaps even obsene. But their purpose, and the reasons for arriving at such an arrangement is a function of their particular needs as a society. To them, it's utterly logical, vital even. It was a surprise to me (if you can believe that) that conflict arose in the story between two human characters simply because one of them accepted the validity of the aliens' system while the other insisted on judging that system by the standards of their own. Incredibly interesting stuff, world-building. You never know what's going to turn up.

  3. Anonymous5:30 PM EDT

    Well Jacqueline, first there were tribal gods in the Middle East. They were usually local and linked to an aspect of the landscape. The Jewish god of Moses (one of those locals) ascended to primacy and said his people should not worship any other gods. Then Jesus came along and improved upon Judaism. Then Muhammad came along and said that he was a prophet sent by the same god who was the god of Moses and Jesus. Like Christianity (Council of Nicaea, Lutheranism, Church of England, etc., anyone?) and Judaism (Orthodoxy or non), Islam has its sects which are politically motivated separationist movements. Calling it a bizarre religion is a bit ... narrow-minded. Especially since Muhammad formulated most of it directly from his study of the Jewish and Christian religions. As to why the hate - historically speaking, the Arabs claim to be descended from Sarah's serving maid Hagar, whom she gave to Abraham so that he could have a son (Ishmael). Then when Sarah conceived, the maid and her infant son were pushed out to fend for themselves in the desert. Flash forward a number of generations to Moses telling the Jews that God wanted them to take over the land of the Philistines? Those were the Palestinians, the descendants of Hagar & Ishmael, who had lived in that area for centuries. And after World War Two, when the European Jews were offered several new homes in which to live, they instead insisted on invading their ancestral home - which was the ancestral home of the Palestinians - and evicting those people out of their houses, sometimes in the dead of night by armed vigilantes without giving them a chance to collect their possessions, and then claiming the land for themselves. Do you see a pattern here and a possible reason people might get upset? (By the way, the European Jews didn't just evict the Muslim Palestinians from their home; they were equal-opportunity and evicted the Christian and Jewish Palestinians too ... something to think about!)

  4. Yes, I am strongly in favor of religion/spirituality playing a role in SF and futuristic romance. A frequent source of irritation for me in reading SF is fiction with a complete absence of religious observance among the characters. Some authors imply (or even state outright) that by the time humanity reaches the stars, our species will have "outgrown" religion. This hasn't happened throughout recorded history, despite cataclysmic social and technological changes. It's suddenly going to happen over the next couple of centuries as a result of a technological advance -- readily available space travel -- that's quite minor compared to the vast differences between Stone Age cultures and our own? The original STAR TREK was disappointing in this regard. The chapel aboard the ENTERPRISE is shown only once (in the episode that perpetuates the silly folk belief that ships' captains can legally marry people). It's bare and bleak, hardly inspirational, and there's not a chaplain in sight. Our aircraft carriers are staffed with chaplains; wouldn't the flagship of Starfleet have a similar post? (Deanna Troi, as ship's counselor, seems to fill that role to some extent in ST:NG.) DEEP SPACE NINE much improved on the previous two series in this respect, by dealing with alien religions seriously and respectfully.

  5. DUNE is one of my favorite science fiction series expressly because of its complex vision of future religions and spirituality.

    Clive Barker handles this topic well in his novels, though they are dark fantasy not science fiction.

    Maybe it's that never-discuss-religion-or-politics-in-public thing we're taught, that makes SFR wary of incorporating it into its worldbuilding.